Aquifer Recharge Challenged In Idaho

Published online: Mar 27, 2006 PGI FLASH
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Ironically, a looming surplus of water in 2006 has created a new problem in Idaho. At issue is House Bill 800 which relates to recharging the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

The Potato Growers of Idaho feel that H.B. 800 is important to growers and the future ownership of Idaho's water rights. Growers are urged to contact their state representatives and the Senate Resources and Environment Committee to express their support in preventing a dangerous precedent affecting ownership of Idaho's water

Idaho Power Company, An IDACORP Company has initiated an aggressive campaign to stop this bill. During the 1994 legislature, the public utility successfully placed hydro-pwer generation at a higher priority status than aquifer recharge as a beneficial use of water during years of water surplus.

Under the 1984 Swan Falls Agreement, a minimum flow of 3,900 cfs was guaranteed for hydro-power. The state water users and Idaho Power agreed to put excess amounts in trusts for future use and development.

On March 9, 2006, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden wrote a legal opinion of the Swan Falls Agreement stating, "Idaho Power subordinated its hydropower water rights to all future beneficial uses, including but not limited to aquifer recharge."  Representative Bruce Newcomb brought this issue to the House Floor and H.B. 800 was introduced.

Under H.B. 800, Idaho Power will continue to get its agreed-upon guaranteed minimum flow, and the state will have license to apply the rest of Idaho's water to important projects such as aquifer recharge. In other words, H.B. 800 will make recharge projects primary and not secondary to Idaho Power.

If H.B. 800 is not approved, state water users run the risk of Idaho Power blocking future aquifer recharge projects. Recharge won't even take place if excess water is being spilled over the dams and running out of the state.

The Govenor's office has proposed a pilot project that would pay Idaho Power $1.6 million, which would allow the state to use some of the excess water; but such a project sets up a dangerous precedent that Idaho Power does in fact own the water in Idaho. This will jeopardize the future for many irrigators and growers in the state.

Paying Idaho Power for surplus water they won't even use makes little sense. The only solution is H.B. 800.

Please contact members of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee today by either email (www.legislature.idaho.gov/howtocontactlegislators.htm), or call the State Capitol's Information Center at (800) 626-0471 or (208) 332-1000 and simply tell the receptionist you wish to express your opinion concerning H.B. 800.

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